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Developing Dynamic and Fully Functioning Teams

Mark Gorkin, LCSW ("The Stress Doc") Updated: Oct 20th 2015

More than ever organizational structures and personnel comprising companies, associations, non-profits and government agencies must work and play together as truly interdependent, high task and high touch teams.

Team Definition

work team cheeringLet's begin with a definition of team followed by some critical components for achieving working groups that: a) foster organizational and individual productivity and support, b) address and resolve conflict in a genuine, WIN/WIN manner and c) strengthen morale and commitment to the team, the organization and the industry or profession.

A dynamic, fully functioning team:

1) consists of a number of individuals with some common identity and purpose yet with distinct experiences, aptitudes, historical/cultural backgrounds, desires, communicational skills and personalities, for example, differing needs for achievement and affiliation,

2) while having a leadership structure, mature teams provide designed and spontaneous opportunities for all members to be both task (product) and/or emotional-relational (process) leaders or facilitators,

3) is a collective that comes together -- in-person or electronically -- to share openly (though sometimes covertly) their perspective, agendas, expertise and biases,

4) through coordinated task activity, data gathering, information sharing, delegation, resolving conflict and building consensus and providing mutual assistance and support,

5) establishes a vision and/or mission statement, articulates roles and responsibilities and identifies, negotiates and attempts to realize short-and long-term goals.

Clearly, a team is more than just a gathering with a common goal. Every high-powered team can be conceived musically as a quartet, if not a symphony, whereby a collection of instruments and musicians transform the potential for their own individual sound (if not a cacophony of noise) through disciplined practice and feedback. (Still, the best teams also allow for some solo performance that both gives to and takes from the ensemble.) When all are on the same sheet, the result is a harmonious and inspiring collective effort. A fully functioning team exemplifies the dynamic systems principle of synergy: interaction yields a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts!

Team Concepts

Now let's outline some key concepts that affect the achievement, problem support and morale-building potential of fully functioning teams.

1. Open and Closed Boundaries. Who is allowed on the team and who is kept out? For example, in the Hospitality Industry, providing opportunities for buyers and suppliers to work together on committees or having suppliers as contributing partners on boards are examples of open systems and teams with the potential for dynamic interchange. Conversely, current events also provide examples of the dangers of too much openness or rigidity. The Enron debacle with accountants confounding their oversight role as business consultants reveals porous boundaries. Employees and supervisors having little or no access to top Enron executives shows autocratic, arrogant and dysfunctional insularity.

2. Conflict and Consensus. Naturally, having access to the table doesn't guarantee open exchange. Have you ever been involved with a tightly controlled group where your only role is part of the "amen chorus"? While these so-called team meetings may be efficient in the short run, without the airing of differences and sharing of resources there's more lip service than genuine buy-in for the long-term. Such groups ignore the Stress Doc maxim: Difference and Disagreement does not equal Disapproval and Disloyalty.

Actually, group research shows that teams: a) allowing for diversity of composition and viewpoints and b) having a channeling process for this complex energy invariably produce more creative problem-solving outcomes than teams without optimal levels of conflict or those controlled by groupthink. While reaching consensus may take more time, member passion and commitment are the likely rewards. The best definition encountered of consensus: Each person or entity gives up a little (e.g., of their individual assumptions, desires, territory and/or resources) which then is harnessed for producing a greater whole and greater good.

3. Vision, Mission and Goals. Successful organizations have a company vision as well as working teams and individuals with a meaningful sense of their place in the big picture. A dynamic vision illuminates and integrates past, present and future directions and facilitates creative interconnection amongst parts, partners and the greater whole. A mission statement along with goals and objectives are guidelines and plans for closing the gap between the ideal (vision) and the real (ongoing performance and service/product quality).

While initially a vision may have been conceived by a leader or small coterie, ultimately goals and action plans come to life when all relevant members of the organization and teams have some input in the development and implementation phases of project management. Major reorganization plans should not be presented to employees or members as a "fait accompli." True and timely inclusion in decision-making or project development fosters both creativity and commitment; for example, staff embracing team bonuses before individual bonuses. Remember, there's often a fine line between vision and hallucination with input and feedback often making the difference.

4. Leadership Role. Being open and participatory as a team doesn't preclude the need for a leader. Actually, more sophisticated leadership is required -- from the role of coach and informational catalyst to fostering leadership and ownership amongst the other team members. With situational leadership, not only is there variety in leadership styles, but also new leaders emerge depending on the nature of the problem or the problem-solving skills and experience of members.

But of all the many leadership roles and responsibilities -- from delegation to performance evaluation -- perhaps the most important is encouraging backtalk and dissent. According to esteemed management consultant, Warren Bennis, writing years before the Enron meltdown, "Leaders need people around them who tell the truth, the good news and the bad…who have contrary views or 'variance sensors' who can tell (leaders) the difference between what is expected and what is really going on" (in On Becoming a Leader). And then, of course, we need leaders who listen and act accordingly!


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